Illustration for article titled How Ankle Monitors Could Replace Prisons

"Traditional prison," writes Graeme Wood in this month's Atlantic, "has become more or less synonymous with failed prison." One radical solution: scale back traditional prisons in favor of sophisticated monitoring devices. And it's actually not as radical as it sounds.


The problem is that traditional incarceration is increasingly expensive and exceedingly inefficient. But monitoring devices—like the BI ExacuTrack AT that Wood himself tried out—can now allow officials to closely monitor nonviolent criminals as they go about their day.

Sitting at a computer, hundreds of miles away, an official can monitor a criminal's movement through exclusion and inclusion zones—the former being places that a particular criminal must avoid, like a school or public park, the latter being places they must be at a certain time, like a job. Here's a scene from Wood's visit to BI Incorporated, an industry leader in the monitoring devices:

I asked Jamie Roberts, a call-center employee who had previously been a BI customer as a corrections officer in Terre Haute, Indiana, to show me a parolee on the move, and in seconds he pulled up the profile of a criminal in Newport News, Virginia. The young man's parole officer had used a Microsoft Bing online map to build a large irregular polygon around his high school-an inclusion zone that would guarantee an alert if he failed to show up for class on time, every day. Roberts showed me one offender after another: names and maps, lives scheduled down to the minute. There was a gambler whose anklet was set to notify Roberts if the client approached the waterfront, because he might try his luck on the gaming boats; an addict who couldn't return to the street corners where he used to score crack; and an alcohol abuser who had to squeeze himself into an inclusion zone around a church basement for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting from 9 to 10 p.m., three times a week.


Of course, not everyone will take to the idea of criminals being out in the open, serving their time in virtual prisons. But as Wood explains, "when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years." And as that arrangement grows increasingly unsustainable, alternatives to our traditional prison systems should be explored. Plenty more prison food for thought in the full article. [The Atlantic]

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